To an entire generation of teens in the late 80s and early 90s, Alex Winter was an unlikely idol. As “Bill” in ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ (and the subsequent sequel) he was paired with Keanu Reeves as a dim-witted but good natured metal head going on, well, excellent adventures. Now he’s an established writer and director with a new documentary about the tumultuous rise of the music downloading industry.
The film, entitled “Downloaded,” examines the real-life excellent adventures experienced by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The pair began Napster in 1999 when they were 19 and 20 years old … and suddenly found themselves in a firestorm of controversy and legal battles with the music industry when the project became bigger than even they might have imagined. He spoke to POPgoesTheWeek about the film.
Through Napster’s successes and turmoils, Winter was fascinated by the story. “I met Shawn Fanning back when Napster was just coming to close,” he says. “We talked about telling the story in a movie then,” (In a separate interview, Fanning joked that Winter’s role in ‘Bill and Ted’ didn’t hurt in helping secure a meeting between them.) “and believe it or not it’s taken ten years to get it made. People back then had a hard time really understanding the technology, and it was unclear if it was going to stay or go.”
Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker and Alex Winter (courtesy VH1 via Alex Winter)
Clearly, the technology, at it’s core, stayed, even if Napster didn’t, thanks to government injunctions and multi million dollar lawsuits over illegal sharing and downloading. The story of what became of the Napster fortune and fame is compelling, but yet to be fully told on film. And that’s where Winter, who wrote and directed Downloaded comes in. In part, he says, to help set the record straight about the intentions of its originators – and all of the people behind the revolution of the music world as a whole – one that has sparked a relative end to music stores, ‘albums’ and concern about the industry at large.
“I think that there’s a lot of divisiveness between the existing establishment and the technological innovators. There’s a lot of misundestanding about the motives about the generational revolution that’s taking place right now. I think, first and foremost, I want to tell a great story – one that I think is worth telling – that’s really been the primary motivator. If this helps to add more sides to the conversation and clarify some things and get people thinking and talking about that, would be great.”
In the years following “Bill and Ted,” Winter has enjoyed a steady stream of acting roles, but has been largely occupied with developing Downloaded for the past few years. But as rumors brew about a new, updated installment to the “Bill and Ted” franchise, he is reluctant to elaborate on possible the new film.
“I have a big no comment on that,” he says. But even though the original movie, it’s sequel and long term cult-like success is clearly a chapter he’d like to close, he does understand the film’s continued appeal.
“I have sort of talked the subject out,” he adds, “but I think there’s a sweetness to them and people respond to that. I think it’s genuinely about two good friends – I think at the heart of it, it’s really about friendship and going through this crazy world as a team rather than on your own. The movie was written by two close friends and (Keanu) Reeves and I were really good friends and I think that really came across.”